Some votes are worth 22 times more than others, new research reveals
The political parties spend 22 times more on some people’s votes than on others, according to new research by the Electoral Reform Society.
The research shows that for the 2010 general election, parties spent just 14p per individual vote in Bootle, Merseyside, whereas they spent a whopping £3.07 per vote in Luton South, Bedfordshire. And the amount that parties spend is shown to have a direct impact on the likelihood that people turn out to vote.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“Elections in Britain have become the ultimate postcode lottery. The amount of money which parties spend on attracting your vote depends almost entirely on where you live. The fact that voters in Bootle are valued 22 times less than those in Luton South shows that all votes are not created equal after all.”
“If you live in a marginal seat, then parties will spend money trying to attract your vote. But if you live in a safe seat – as so many people do – then you will be all but ignored. Our report shows that where parties tighten their belts, people will be much less likely to vote.”
“In other words, the massive inequality in how much people’s votes are valued is turning people away from politics. By targeting marginal seats, parties are contributing to the problem of voter disengagement, and they are making it harder for themselves to reverse declines in party membership.”
“There are two things driving this inequality. One is the dire state of the parties’ finances, and the other is our lop-sided electoral system. Parties have scant resources and naturally want to target their spending where it will make the most difference. Our outdated voting system means that the most logical way of spending money is to target a few marginal seats. And this leaves millions of voters in the lurch.”
“If we are going to redress the imbalance, both party funding and our electoral system need to be reformed. We need properly and sustainably funded political parties incentivised to campaign across the country, not just in a few fiercely contested seats. We need a party funding system that recognises the crucial role that parties play in mobilising voters. And we need an electoral system that values each voter equally no matter where they live.”
The Electoral Reform Society’s latest report, Penny for your Vote?, also reveals that in 195 seats (30% of the total), no money was spent by any candidate on public meetings. In five seats, no money was spent by any candidate on advertising, and 348 candidates (8.6% of the total) spent no money at all on their campaigns.
The top ten most valued seats, in descending order, are: Luton South, Aberconwy, Barking, Poplar and Limehouse, Northampton North, Hampstead and Kilburn, Buckingham, Norwich South, Brighton Pavilion, and Bethnal Green and Bow.
The bottom ten least valued seats are: Bootle, Ruislip Northwood and Pinner, South Leicestershire, Halton, Sheffield Heeley, Knowsley, Leeds East, Ashton-under-Lyne, Makerfield and Beckenham.
In the 50 most marginal seats, average spending per vote was 162% higher than in the 50 safest seats, demonstrating that the main driver of inequality in spending is an electoral system that makes much of the country a no-go area even for the biggest parties.
In one seat (Motherwell and Wishaw), no money at all was spent by two of the major parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Financially strained parties combined with an outdated electoral system have created a situation in which half the major party candidates in a constituency spend no money on campaigning.
The research provides solid evidence that money spent on campaigning is directly correlated with people turning out to vote. This builds on previous academic research which shows that contact between parties and people through leaflets, advertising, meetings and other activities encourages people to vote.
Voters in safe seats are less likely to have resources spent on attracting their vote, and are therefore less likely even to turn up at the polling booth. As voter disengagement becomes a more and more pressing problem, so does the inequality of party spending, and so does the voting system which incentivises parties to target their resources so ruthlessly.
The report, 'Penny for your Vote?', is based primarily on analysis of the Electoral Commission's data on campaign spending for the 2010 elections.
To download a copy of the report, click here.